2018 Kia Cerato S automatic review

Kia aims to spice up its best-selling model with visual ties to the Stinger halo model.

Since the Stinger has been such a winner for Kia’s brand image, you can’t blame the company for trying to sprinkle some of the sports sedan’s magic dust over its Cerato small car.

Kia says the styling cues borrowed include a ‘fastback sedan’ silhouette, which is created by a longer bonnet and a roof line that tapers into a shorter boot deck. The profile of this third-generation Cerato certainly looks more muscular than that of the last model.

There’s more Stinger styling inspiration at the front with the sportier-looking front bumper, similar (though more sweptback) headlights, and bonnet creases.

The Cerato is already Kia’s best-selling car in Australia, though some extra visual flair can’t hurt – especially for the base-model, fleet-focused S sedan variant we’re testing here. (The Cerato hatch is coming later in 2018.)

The S badge is the only one to survive the transition to Cerato Mk3. Si and SLi badges make way for Sport and Sport+.

Pricing is sharp. The Kia Cerato S is offered from $19,990 drive-away with a manual gearbox (the only variant where it’s available), or $21,490 drive-away (DA) for an auto transmission.

That undercuts rival compact sedans (with manuals) such as the Mazda 3 Neo (currently from $21,490 DA), Hyundai Elantra Active (from $20,990 DA), and Toyota Corolla Ascent (from about $24,750 DA).

That’s somewhat balanced by those models featuring 16-inch alloy wheels (as well as the Holden Astra LS that’s currently $19,990 DA), whereas the S slightly spoils the good work of the bodywork by sitting on 16-inch steel wheels with plastic hubcaps.

Front sensors (in addition to rear sensors) and digital radio aren’t usual at this price range, though, and the Cerato’s new 8.0-inch touchscreen is larger than the (7.0-inch) norm.

All Ceratos are now equipped with autonomous emergency braking, with other driving aids including forward collision warning, lane-keep assist and fatigue monitoring. There’s also tyre pressure monitoring – always an underrated feature in this writer’s book.

For a reasonable $1000, an option pack gives the base Cerato impressive active-safety for the price, with the addition of more advanced AEB with cyclist and pedestrian protection, radar cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. It also adds a leather steering wheel and folding side mirrors.

Tick that, and compared with the next-up $23,690 Sport, you’re only missing 17-inch alloy wheels, navigation, aero-blade wipers and sportier-looking cloth seats.

The $26,190 Sport+’s extras comprise LED daytime running lights, keyless entry/start, leather trim, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, and rear vents.

Inside, Kia has widened the Cerato’s dash by nearly two centimetres – again in a nod to the Stinger, though the overall cabin can’t match the design/quality of the bigger four-door that sets a benchmark for the Korean brand.

While it’s a smarter, maturer look for the Cerato’s interior – and the cabin is solidly and neatly constructed – quality doesn’t rise above expectations for the pricepoint. Hard, unattractively textured plastics are the cabin’s predominant material and the roof lining feels cheap. Softer plastics are restricted to the upper dash, door armrest and top of the console bin.

The heating-ventilation controls are inconsistent in feel and operation – the bezels of the temperature and vent selector dials are a touch loose. There’s better tactility and damping for the infotainment system’s physical buttons and dials.

In keeping with generally good cabin ergonomics, Kia has positioned the infotainment display and controls higher than before. The screen is a great size, and finding/choosing settings or functions is straightforward using the touchscreen.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also new for the Cerato.

The centre console’s front tray includes AUX and USB ports, with flip-out covers revealing a 12-volt socket and another device-connection port for charging. The console bin includes another USB socket. Both the console bin and glovebox offer good storage space. The door bins aren’t so generous.

The Cerato’s body has grown 80mm to make it one of the longer small sedans at 4.64m. The extension is all in the overhangs, though, so there’s no change to the 2.7m wheelbase – and therefore rear leg room.

Knee space is still decent. Head room increases by 4mm front and rear – courtesy of a 5mm-higher roof line – though taller passengers in the back seat will be conscious of the roof lining. Rear shoulder room increases by 10mm, but three adults across the back remains a squeeze. Rear air vents are absent, too, despite featuring in the Sport+.

A longer rear overhang increases the Cerato sedan’s boot space by 20 litres to 502 litres – extending its size advantage over key rivals, such as the Mazda 3 (408L), Astra (445L) and Elantra (458L). It’s also easier to load/unload the boot courtesy of a bigger aperture.

There are spring-release levers for the 60/40 seatbacks, though they don’t auto-collapse, and there’s a stepped floor when the seats are down.

Also less than ideal is the absence of an exterior boot release button (it’s via the key fob or lever by the driver’s seat) and gooseneck hinges that have the potential to crush luggage. Only a space-saver spare under the floor, too.

The Cerato S’s regular tyres are chubby 205/55R16 Kumhos (Ecsta). They combine with Kia Australia’s local tuning efforts to provide a superbly cushioned ride that doesn’t come at the expense of body control. Only the biggest of bumps aren’t quite fully absorbed.

The local engineering team was no doubt grateful to work on a Cerato that brings a stiffer and stronger body than its predecessor. The body shell’s percentage of high-strength steel, for example, has increased from 34 to 54 per cent.

The steering is also worthy of praise for its accuracy and consistency of weighting.

There’s some tyre noise if the road surface becomes coarser, and surprisingly less noticeable on the Sport’s bigger (17-inch), wider and lower-profile (225/45) Nexen tyres. These also introduce a firmer ride, though not to the detriment of comfort. Handling isn’t going to set pulses racing, but it’s sufficiently tidy and entirely apt for the average Cerato buyer.

There’s room for improvement under the bonnet, though. The Cerato’s ‘Nu’ 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine isn’t new, carried over along with the six-speed auto. The engine may be willing, but it gets noisy when revved, which it needs to do to compensate for the lack of meaningful torque.

The auto calibration seems to have been adjusted accordingly, too, as the six-speeder is often slow to upshift, while gear changes could be smoother. There is a Sport mode (engaged via a button on the centre console), but it’s largely ineffective. It shifts up too quickly in quicker driving, so throttle response is never ideal.

(If you want the transmission to determine which setting is best, there’s a Smart mode – selected via the touchscreen – that will choose from Eco, Comfort or Sport depending on your driving style.)

Fuel economy is below average, too, and slightly worse than the previous model due to increased kerb weight. With official usage of 7.4 litres per 100km (7.6L/100km for the manual), the Cerato is thirstier than the average compact sedan.

As examples, the Mazda 3 Neo auto uses 5.7L/100km, a Holden Astra LS auto 6.1L/100km, and a Toyota Corolla Ascent auto 6.4L/100km.

The engine and auto combination slightly undermines the great work done by the rest of the Cerato package, yet it also doesn’t stop us from suggesting the Kia is a must-consider for any fleet buyer, or even a private buyer looking for a super-affordable small car.

There’s also Kia’s industry-leading seven-year factory warranty to consider, and annual capped-price servicing that averages just $393 across five years (or $410pa across seven years).

The Kia Cerato S may be a basic car, but it covers all the basics nicely.

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